How Buddhism reached Malaysia

  • 17 May 2019
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Buddhist texts spoke of two Buddhist monks coming to Malaysia in the 3rd BC after the third Buddhist council. There is also archaeological evidence that a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom existed in the Bujang Valley of Kedah in the 2nd century AD.

From the 8th to the 13th century, the Malay Peninsula was under the Sri Vijaya empire which was based in Sumatra, and had over a thousand Buddhist monks. It was described by the Chinese monk I-Tsing in 671, as an important centre for Buddhist learning.

The Sri Vijaya kingdom was later conquered by Thailand (then known as Siam), which had already at that time controlled the Malayan northern states such as Kedah. The people of the Malay Peninsula were then introduced to the Buddhist customs and traditions of the Thais.

Buddhism was also spread by the Indian traders and priests during the ruling of Asoka in the 3rd century. He had converted after being so troubled by the damages caused by war onto humanity. He renounced all warfare and incorporated non-violence in his ruling practices.

Malaysia is now a melting pot of different Buddhist traditions (Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana) and also of different ethnic groups (Thai, Sri Lankan, Burmese and Chinese). Contemporary Buddhist followers either practice Mahayana Buddhism, popular among the Chinese; or Theravada Buddhism, which is common among the Thais and Sri Lankans. Buddhism is practiced in several languages including English, Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin, Thai and several Indian languages.

Most Buddhists in Malaysia come from the Chinese community. Many of them combine Buddhism with Taoism or Confucianism, making Buddhists the second largest religious group in Malaysia after Islam.

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